Archive for February, 2012

In my last post “I Am What I Think and Do” I wrote:

Dreaming is easy. Processing and focussing your thoughts, then taking action requires effort and hard work. Your goals and how you achieve them help define who you are and who you can become. So although the progression to self development and self awareness through dreams, thought and action might be linear, it isn’t simple. It requires some effort to sort the tangled messages.

The next step is to wrap it up with a big bow and colour it in rainbow colours because life is a gift and it’s up to us who we become.

Well here is the image gift wrapped with the message in the colours of the rainbow

Life is a gift, and it’s up to us what we do with it.


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“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world”

Recently I have come across a lot of bucket lists. I am inspired not by the lists, but by the people who are sharing their accomplishments as they achieve their goals. The young man who is cycling from Canada to Mexico, the woman who has published her fifty thousand word novel … These people are focussed. They have thought about what they want to do, made a plan, then acted on it. They may not be changing the world in the way that Mother Theresa did, or Gandhi, but they’ve changed their world and the worlds of people they’ve encountered.

I am fortunate to have time every day to do what I choose to do. But how am I choosing to use that time? I am busy. I go to the gym, I read, I draw, I design graphics, I write a little and I think a lot.

I believe we are defined by our actions, but without purpose our actions are just a means of passing time. By changing the way we think and act we change who we are … we change who we are, we change the way we think. But it’s not a closed loop, or even the infinite figure eight. It’s a linear progression:

I have realised a dream. I have always wanted to express myself creatively in images but have lacked the skills and medium to do this. Now I can combine my love of letters and words and images with the satisfaction I get from exploring ideas and concepts. Creating a calligram allows me to take something intangible and turn it into an image with a message that conveys far more than any number of words I might use. It may provide entertainment or pleasure or a challenge to others, even inspire or change their thinking. An image is powerful. It can have immediate impact, or it can be subtle, or require time to think about, and lead to other ideas.

Dreaming is easy. Processing and focussing your thoughts, then taking action requires effort and hard work. your goals and how you achieve them help define who you are and who you can become. So although the progression to self development and self awareness through dreams, thought and action might be linear, it isn’t simple. It requires some effort to sort the tangled messages:

The next step is to wrap it up with a big bow and colour it in rainbow colours because life is a gift and it’s up to us who we become.

Creating a calligram challenges me and expands my thinking. While I am creating, my mind free wheels and other related or unrelated ideas take shape. While thinking through all these ideas it occurs to me, that although I have no bucket list, I have three things I am desperate to achieve. First, for thirty years I have loved having time with my children and I intend to continue investing everything I can in them. Second, for nearly twenty years I have been determined to walk and I will continue to do everything needed to improve and maintain my mobility. Third, I will do everything I can to return to Tuscany with my husband while I am still mobile, he is able to carry all my bags, and we can plan and explore its art and history together.

So I can either pass the time while I’m doodling and playing with words and shapes, or I can use it as an opportunity to think … to plan my day, reflect on my ambitions, or explore something inspirational that I’ve heard or read and think about how I might apply it to my life.

Enough. A time to write, a time to draw and a time to progress my plans.

Otherwise it’s only dreams:

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A friend remarked, as he picked up an iPod, that his grandmother would refuse to believe that a thing so tiny could possibly hold thousands of songs.

It started me thinking how extraordinary the playing of recorded music has become. It’s the stuff of Science Fiction, except no Science Fiction writer predicted the storage of vast tracks of music in such a portable device, and that the quality of the music would be superb.

It isn’t long ago that we were astounded by the amount of music stored on a CD, and that a CD player could be carried so easily, although there was the problem of jumping tracks as a portable player moved. I still have a CD player in my car.
The CD superseded the Walkman, and that was less than ten years ago!

I don’t have an iPod because I doubt I could walk well with my crutches if I was listening to music through ear plugs. Also, I hate having things in my ears. ( Now, if someone could come up with a way to listen to music through the bone behind the ear …)

When I’m at home, which is quite a lot of the time, I listen to music through iTunes. Fantastic! A quality sound through a home theatre system (bought for listening to music, not watching movies) that enables me listen to anything from Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto to the Rolling Stones “Angie”.

And that’s when I get “lost in the music”. With thousands of pieces of music to choose from, I vacillate instead of just clicking the mouse and letting the music seep out, spill out, rock out, or boom out I get lost in the playlist … Do I feel like listening to Cat Stevens, Johnny Cash, Mick Jagger, Joan Baez, Mozart, Beethoven, Mussorgsky … Do I want to listen to protest music from the sixties, or do I want to listen to country music, or classical. The library is organised into categories, but sometimes the mix in the categories doesn’t suit. Then more questions …Do I want to buy music from the Internet, or own a CD?

I’m lost in all the possibilities.

But, once I’ve found the music for the moment, then I’m reminded of the true meaning of “lost in the music”. There is no sense of time or space, just the emotional response to something primal. Music moves me. It moves me to joy, sadness, wonder. Music fills me up. Music speaks to my soul.I’m lost in the music …

Lost In The Music

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A red rose of love growing on a stem of romance:

Valentine's Rose

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It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow, so that got me thinking about how we celebrate it and why.

One story goes that a Roman Emperor wanted his soldiers to focus solely on war, so he forbade marriage. A priest called Valentine defied the ban and continued to marry couples in secret. The priest’s subversion was discovered and he was put to death.

The romantic celebration of St Valentine’s apparently began in the 14th century when Chaucer associated the saint with romance in his poetry. Around the same time Paris set up a court to protect women. The court dealt with love contracts, betrayals and violence against women. The earliest surviving valentine was written by a Frenchman to his wife:
Je suis desja d’amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée…
—Charles d’Orléans, Rondeau VI, lines 1–2[27]
Aaah, French, the language of love!

By the eighteenth century, books of poems were published so that young lovers unable to compose their own poetry could draw on these. Paper valentines began to be mass produced and with the beginnings of a postal service anonymous valentines could be sent.

So here we are in the 21st century, and what does Valentine’s day mean now? Huge numbers of red roses delivered to schools, offices and homes. Jewellery stores advertising, diamonds, rings, necklaces. Stationers selling vast numbers of romantic, funny, cynical and friendship cards. It’s competitive, desperate, disappointing, exciting, exploitative … It’s for children, teenagers, lovers, couples, young and old.

It can be a day to declare your romantic intentions, to arouse passions, to ignite love, or simply a special day to rekindle romance.

The days leading up to Valentine’s can be a time to reflect on love, relationships and the glue that holds couples together.

A few images to expand on these thoughts about Valentines:

What is love?

What is love?

Love can be a smouldering fire, to be rekindled with fresh air … or extinguished through neglect:

Smouldering love

Then there is the passion we all yearn for, the heart on fire:

Heart on Fire

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Surgery I had a couple of days ago required general anaesthesia. It was the third time I had required surgery in six months to repair a fistula. (I have previously posted about how I have avoided surgery through exercise and stretching, but sometimes a slice of the knife wins … c’est la vie …)

Each time the anaesthetist spoke to me about the procedure he used the term “putting to sleep”. But it isn’t like going to sleep, and it isn’t like waking up. It’s better. It’s like time travel, and/or like transporting through space. And for some reason it’s not alarming, it’s fine, even pleasant. One moment someone is telling me that I’ll feel a rush to the head, and the same moment my eyes open and i’m in a different room, with different people, and at a different time. Note that I wrote “at the same moment”. And that’s the interesting thing. When you go to sleep naturally it’s a gradual thing, and when you wake up naturally you become aware of your surroundings over time … Even if you wake suddenly you are aware of time passing. When the anastheatic wears off it’s not sudden or slow or instantaneous … It is the same moment that the anaesthetic was administered.

I can see why Michael Jackson might have liked using propofol – it’s an hypnotic drug used in general anaesthesia. The benzodiazepines he used with it are muscle relaxants. I wonder if he became addicted to the sweet sleep, that rush as the anaesthetic is administered and the not unpleasant sensation of alertness at what you register as being the exact same moment despite time having passed.

The aim of anaesthesia is to induce various states of hypnosis, amnesia, analgesia, relaxation of skeletal muscles, and loss of control of reflexes of the autonomic nervous system.

I take a great many drugs to manage pain and spasm, and some of these drugs are very valuable on the black market because of “chill out” properties. I seem to be immune to these effects, because, as my family will testify, I’m not chilled out. Also, I don’t experience any pleasant sensations other than the relief of pain.

But general anaesthesia is quite nice. (I understand that for up to 0.2% anaesthesia is not “quite nice” and is not completely effective, some poor buggers even remaining conscious in their paralysed bodies, unable to tell anyone they can feel the pain of the knife – unimaginable terror)

I had always thought, like many others I have spoken to, that anastheasia produces a pattern of deep sleep, the delta waves.

I did a little research and found that scientists don’t write of anaesthesia as sleep, most refer to it as being in a coma.

Even up to a few years ago scientists used to associate unconsciousness with being under anastheasia because of the shared delta wave readings.  Many scientists are now reluctant to use the word unconscious because that would imply an understanding of consciousness which they don’t have. Just like scientists no longer believe they can map the mind … That’s still in the philosopher’s realm.

The most recent research indicates that the drug concoction used in anastheasia stops areas of the brain from “talking” to each other. The significance of this is the potential insight to damage to areas of the brain whether through physical trauma, medical condones or ageing.

My interest lies in the fact that the brain and spinal cord are the central nervous system, and an understanding of the central nervous system has implications for understanding and treating spinal cord injuries … Blatant self interest, but at least it’s a healthy interest, not one based on the pleasure of a sweet sleep.

Sweet sleep - Anasthesia

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All of us at some time in our lives experience trauma or tragedy. I was listening to an interview on National Radio where a self help guru was talking about a book he had written about dealing with tragedy after his young son was diagnosed with autism. He had developed a phrase called the “reality gap” to describe the adjustment people in tragic situations have to make between their expectations and their new reality.

I don’t like this phrase. Everything about it seems negative. “Reality” smacks of “get real” and gap emphasises what you’ve lost.

I compare this to the strategies that are implemented in the spinal unit to help paraplaegics and tetraplaegics get back on their feet, figuratively speaking … Hit the deck running, so to speak. (Humour is a great tool.) Patients are encouraged to grieve, for loss of mobility, loss of bodily function … and to understand the stages of grief they will experience. Then there is a plaque on the wall “Think about what you can do, not what you cannot.” This is hammered in. Staff demand the maximum independence possible.

In these circumstance the human spirit is at its finest. People discover personal qualities of resilience, problem solving, empathy, co-operation, determination, optimism, hope. I met a gang member who extended his hand in friendship by showing me, a middle aged, middle class woman, how to use my wheelchair as a weapon. There is also depression, frustration, anger, denial, but nearly always people find the strength and the tools to move forward. The only thing that can stop someone growing and adapting is bitterness. Bitterness is the great enemy.

I don’t believe a catch phrase like “reality gap” is particularly helpful. Focussing on what you can do, not what you cannot is a powerful force.

I do believe that having a mantra can be a useful way of empowering yourself. My favourite is ” Steel is forged in great heat” another is “the best roses grow in real shit” and “diamonds are just bits of coal that did well under pressure”

It’s a bummer, but we don’t grow in peace and contentment, we grow in adversity. Some of my best thinking and inspiration has happened under pressure, not moments of quiet reflection.

As Winston Churchill said, “We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.”

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